Helping a loved one who is experiencing a severe mental illness, especially someone who may not realize they are sick, is one of the greatest gifts you can give. For some, it may mean the difference between life and tragedy. ~ Treatment Advocacy Center
(Sept. 1, 2015) Finding the most appropriate setting to treat our mentally ill population is not a new challenge.
From the asylum-building movement of the 1800s to the failed attempt at deinstitutionalization in the 1950s, society has seen changing perspectives on how to best serve some of our most vulnerable citizens.
Jails and prisons are clearly not the best solutions, though that is exactly where many of these people have ended up.
How did this happen?
Over the last several years we have seen a steady decline in funding and options for some of our most vulnerable people. In 2009, states cut $4.35 billion in mental health spending, the largest reduction since deinstitutionalization.
The reality is the criminal justice system is now the mental health institution. There are five times more severely mentally ill people in jails and prisons than in hospitals today.
Jails in most cities like here in Nashville are the largest mental health facility in the area. Many inmates with mental health issues are charged with relatively minor infractions. Many are in jail after committing crimes that could have been prevented had they had access to adequate treatment while on the street.
This only masks the real issue for society. It is easy for the general public to see the mentally ill person “off the streets” and believe the situation is being addressed, but our correctional facilities are not the best location to address this serious and complicated matter.
The cost of treating the mentally ill is dramatically higher in a correctional institution than it would be in a mental health facility. It costs over $100 per day just to house a person in jail, not including the cost of his/her mental health treatment.
It is time that we bring this issue out from behind the bars of jails and prisons and deal with it as a mental health crisis, not as a hidden criminal justice component.
Individuals who suffer mental illness need to be treated and addressed in a mental health model of care in facilities designed specifically for that purpose.
Until we all realize that the problem exists, we will continue to underserve those who need our help the most.